La Crosse teen saves friend who fell through the ice

Published On: Mar 11 2013 03:40:49 PM CDT   Updated On: Mar 09 2013 10:32:42 AM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -- -

Two La Crosse teenagers are breathing a sigh of relief after a near-death experience earlier this week.

It happened after they decided to venture out onto the ice near Copeland Park in La Crosse.

What happened next, neither of them were prepared for.

Thirteen-year-old Matthew Hellerud and 13-year-old Austin Kass were looking to just burn some time and hang out on Monday afternoon.

But soon, Kass would be faced with an urgent decision of how to save his best friend's life.

"We were out on the ice just having fun sliding around," said Kass.

"It kind of seemed stable," said Hellerud.

But Hellerud and Kass were in for a rude awakening when what was supposed to be a fun afternoon took a dangerous turn.

"I took another step, and I fell straight through," said Hellerud. 

"He went under," said Kass.

"My whole body was in the water, and then I went up and I was going for the ice. I was trying to push myself up," said Hellerud.

"He put his elbows on the ice, and it just kept breaking," said Kass.

Kass was faced with a life-and-death decision.

"I panicked at first. I was like, 'Oh my god, what do I do?'" said Kass.

"I was thinking, 'I'm going to die,'" said Hellerud.

But not on Kass' watch.

"I just got lower and reached my hand out for him and pulled him out," said Kass.

"He was like, 'Grab my arm,' and I grabbed his arm. I just don't remember how I got up on the ice," said Hellerud.

"We're like, 'Dude. What just happened? Did you really just fall in the ice right now? Did I really pull you out? What happened?'" said Kass.

It was the best possible outcome, so good it didn't sink in for the boys right away.

"I went inside and I was like, 'Mom, almost died, my best bud over here saved my life. I'm going to go get warm,'" said Hellerud.

But with time, they're starting to understand the gravity of what happened.

"Now I know, 'Wow, I just saved his life,'" said Kass.

"I'm thankful I have a good friend like that, not one that would just run away," said Hellerud.

They'll both say they learned a lot that day.

"Don't play on ice if you don't know what you're doing," said Kass.

"Try to stay away from the ice," said Hellerud.

But perhaps the most important lesson learned is the power of friendship.

"Makes me feel like I've got a good friend that he would risk his life to save mine," said Hellerud.

"I think we'll be friends for a long time now," said Kass.

Both of them say they're done with venturing out on the ice for a while now.